In each episode of Child Safety Source, we sit down with an expert who has dedicated their career and time to child safety. This week, we’re highlighting Mark Rauterkus. As you’ll soon see, Rauterkus is a man of many talents. He coaches swim, SKWIM & Water Polo at camps within the City of Pittsburgh. These programs reach nearly two hundred kids. He does this work mainly through a nonprofit, faith-based organization called The Pittsburgh Project.
Watch the full interview with Mark Rauterkus here:
What is SKWIM?
This will likely be a question on a lot of peoples’ minds following the above interview with Mark. As he briefly explained, SKWIM is a water-sport that progresses with your swimming ability. It begins as an engaging swimming lesson aid, and eventually becomes an exhilarating, competitive water sport.
The game is adaptable to both shallow and deep water play in pools, lakes, or marinas. As he mentioned, Mark has been appointed as SKWIM USA’s Executive Director. To learn more, visit SKWIM.us.
Learning More About Mark Rauterkus
In addition to SKWIM, Mark is a veteran youth and collegiate swim and water polo coach. He currently holds leadership positions with Obama Academy Aquatics, Summer Dreamers Aquatic Camps, the Pittsburgh Project, Saturday Swim School, Pittsburgh Citiparks Aquatic Safety Education and several summer water sport events in the greater Pittsburgh area.
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Also, please subscribe to us on Youtube, where you can see all of the Child Safety Source video interviews. This episode is actually our 45th interview. (Yes, we’re still a bit behind on our show transcripts, but we’re catching up!)
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Below is a direct transcript of the Child Safety Source interview with Mark Rauterkus from September 18th, 2018:
Episode 45 – Mark Rauterkus
Eric Lupton: So, how’s it going?
Mark Rauterkus: Going well, thanks.
Eric: Absolutely. Thanks for doing this, I really, really appreciate it. And I met you because of SKWIM. We were just talk a little bit; I met your partner Kevin at the N.D.P.A conference in…. where was it? It must have been the one before Pittsburgh that was Arizona, I think you weren’t there. And it was your partner Kevin, right, that’s what you’re saying?
Mark: That’s right.
Eric: I thought it was you, because I’m terrible with faces, but yeah, I remember he was talking about SKWIM. SKWIM is a pool game and it’s really cool, I think SKWIM is really neat.
Mark: Yeah, so you can play Skwim or you use a Skwim disk in a lot of different facilities; it doesn’t need to be in the pool, you can do it on a beachfront or you know you could do it in a lagoon. Kevin plays it outdoors in a lake. So, there are some boundaries and such, but it’s mainly a pool game, that’s where most people do their swimming. So, we’re really trying to promote the game of Skwim and then with that comes a lesson program and a way to better engage the community.
You know, I work a lot with public school kids and city kids and recreational type pools. So, we’re doing a lot of swim games but then it’s really a way to build up quite a fitness and get the kids strong and safer in the water. And we always try to tie in some things with regards to water safety in aquatics. It’s just, if you swim in a pool all time, you don’t know about rip currents and things like that.
Eric: So, can you explain how Skwim works, the game?
Mark: Sure. The game is a lot like Ultimate Frisbee in the pool. You have just two teams, no contact and so, it makes it a good game for older kids and younger kids or adults. And you pass… a lot of quick passing. We play with camper rules, so a player can only hold the disc for three seconds. So, they accept the pass or reach for it and grab it and then have to throw it right away. So, it’s a lot of passing and teamwork involved and we use that for sportsmanship as well. But then you generally throw the disc and it skims along the top of the water, the bottom is hydrodynamic would lift, so it goes like an air hockey puck; it’s real fast. And the bottom presses the disc sort of against the water. So, it’s a little bit like water polo but way easier. So, it’s easier to grab, easier to move. You can play in deep water, shallow water, shallow-deep. We put fins on the kids so that it keeps the speed of the game up but also helps with the swimming ability and then you can score it three different ways; one if you buy the floating island premier goal. They’re a little expensive for everybody, you know, the backyard pool isn’t going to get that, but if you’re a bigger aquatic center, hopefully you would invest in that.
Some of the schools have done that for Phys. Ed. And then another way to score, is just throw it in the gutter; we call that slot stop. And depending on the way the pool is set up; you have some pools have a nice big gutter, the disc goes in there, sort of like a hockey goal. And then a third way is to play like Ultimate Frisbee with an end zone and generally with a swimming pool would be from the backstroke flags, to the wall that end period, you pass it and the teammate would grab the disc, lift it up. That would be a point or a touchdown.
So, it’s a very flexible game that could be played a number of different ways. We would play it at camp settings with thirty five kids on us in the pool at the same time. You know, our boys against the girls or you know, camp counselors in there with the kids. So, we often put on a headband so that you know who’s on your team and who’s not or who’s in the game and who’s not. So, you know, it’s a fun game and kids can play this you know for an hour a day. So, it’s entertaining, engaging, it keeps their fitness levels up, their work and using teamwork.
Eric: Got you. And if someone wants to play it, how do they get ahold of it?
Mark: Well, the disc is a little like a Water Frisbee, you know it’s being sold now commercially elifeguard.com. You know, that’s not part of the nonprofit but you know it’s where we refer people to. So, yeah, I’d pick up two or three disc for the family or for the team and then they could check out our website. If they Google “swim… swim, S-K-W-I-M” and then I actually have a new site that I wanted to tell you about, we’re just getting it worked on and I love to get your… the people in water safety interest in this. If you go to S-K-W-I-M, Skwim.us, we have a testing system there.
So, there’s four, twenty- five question [quiz] and it’s about water safety. So, it’s real simple, real easy, it be something that kids could do with their parent or their teacher and just sort of go through it. You know, it’s free to use and that’s going to be part of our swim levels or swim level, so that you can advance to level one through five. Level five is actually getting your lifeguard certified. So, level one is in our certification system or digital bad system, you would be able to swim a hundred meters and go five minutes without touching the sides or bottom. Pretty much doubles each time. So, Level two, you are about two hundred fifty yards or two hundred meters and going for ten minutes. And level three goes to the five hundred yard distance and you’re going now for twenty minutes. And then up to a level four, you swim in a one-K and going forty minutes without stopping or touching bottom.
You know, so, we just think it’s the endurance is what’s important and the distance is important, as well as the responsiveness and that’s the quizzing that would go along at the same time. So, we do a little quiz; we do it as a group sometimes, we do send the kids to take it home to work on with their parents just so that they’re going to have a better understanding of the overall aquatic landscape more than just swimming in a pool.
Eric: So, you know, I know why Kevin is obsessed with Skwim, because he invented it and obviously it’s his thing. And when I met him, he was super jazzed about it as I would be too if I came up with something cool like that. So, it makes sense why he is trying to push it all the time and you know get people engage with it. But you came on in January, so what did you see about it that made you decide this was something you really wanted to latch on to?
Mark: Well, I have a big competitive swimming background and Water Polo background. You know and our kids in the city, you know they want to play a game. So, in swimming, there are certain kids that like the race but there’s really not an introductory game in swimming or aquatics that makes up. Water polo is just too tough. And my kids have played, while I’ve coached polo and it’s just physically demanding, it’s all deep water all the time, the kids are span after thirty seconds. You know, it’s just way too tough, they’re going to quit.
So, we need in our landscape of swimming and aquatics, a fun game that everybody can play. And this really, I feel, fits that need. You know, sharks and minnows or other tag games are fun, but this is a little more… as a setting, it’s good for camp [councilors]. So, when I went to the pool, would bring along a bus load of kids and you know it’s a crowded day, they want us playing water polo. And for good reasons; in public swim. You know, the ball goes out, hits a stroller, you know there is a public lap swimmer and it’s no good.
So, you have to have a confined area, you have to have water polo, all the kids have to be about the same age and abilities and they have to be great swimmers to play water polo. But this is different, so you can be on the bottom, you can be with fins. On day one, we start playing the game with the kids in camp. They might not be able to put their head under water, we’ll put lifejackets on them. So, it’s really a good engagement game. And then this summer we went around to a lot of the country clubs and summer league teams around western Pennsylvania and played. So, the lifeguards are in there playing with ten year olds and everybody’s having a good time. And you know that things like that would not happen in water polo or even a race; it’s sort of like not fair to have a big kid race a little kid.
So, racing is important, but game play is important too and I think this fills the need for the gameplay that will help jog more people to the pool.
Eric: Yeah, I mean we all know that is a lot easier to exercise and do something physically engaging if there is a game aspect to it. If you can gamify your fitness, then you can really increase your levels of engagement, how long you can go, all those things. Okay, I think there’s a bunch of studies on that.
Mark: Definitely. Yeah, and it’s just fun you know. And when we put the endurance factor in there, the kids will swim a little bit and then it turns into a wrestling match. No, hey let’s play swim, let’s really build up our capacity to swim for more minutes, more distance, be stronger in the water.
Eric: So, you go from a coaching background, right?
Mark: That’s right.
Eric: How long did you coach for?
Mark: So, I’ve been coaching since ‘1976’. I spent nine years in college settings, a lot of clubs swimming, coached in four, five different states, we published some magazines and some articles and some books on coaching too.
Eric: And what made you decide to get into that in ‘1976’?
Mark: It was a job; it grew out of lifeguarding and I just love the water, I love sport and I actually had some awesome mentors when I was young in my career. So, some people took me under their wings, I was able to be their assisting coach. I went to Ohio University, the head coach there helped me tremendously; I was the assistant coach, so I would help with the team. I really fell in love with the sport and all the benefits that swimming provide. So, I’ve just sort of been able to make a career about swimming and publishing and doing community and doing some outreach.
Eric: Nice. And so, what was the nonprofit you were talking about?
Mark: So, there is a nonprofit, it’s just at the incubator stages; “Swim USA”. And we’re trying to bands allies the activity, the sport, the water safety parts and so we’re working on some programs that we could go out and introduce it to the coaches and clinics or to introduce it with teams or have some competitions. So, we’re trying to interact with a lot of recreational type settings that might like to add more spice to their programs and offerings. And they call me you know, we’ll try to maybe set up a demo game in your area or we’ll work with you on the phone or with our utilities and help you get the confidence so that you can start doing this.
You know, even with playing lifeguard training, was like an awesome Skwim activity. Hey, once a week lifeguards come together, we’re going to have a staff meeting and also we’re going to do some fitness and by the way, let’s play Skwim, and then that would be a great way to introduced Skwim to your community, that has some benefit for your staff, for your water safety environments.
Eric: So, I know kind of what Kevin’s plan was when he was… I’m sure he’s still involved, right, obviously?
Mark: Yeah, definitely. Yes.
Eric: Yeah. But I’m sure that when you came on in January, you had some new ideas where he wanted to take it.
Mark: Well, yeah, I think the competitive swim areas are in a bit of a crisis; there’s a big turnover, kids swim for a while and then they drop out. Once you get older and are really hooked, you know those are the more [neat] senior swimmers, they stay with a few years. But there’s a lot of churning where kids age ten and eleven, might swim for a season or for a couple months and then they quit. So, I think there’s a future to get competitive swim teams playing Skwim as part of their regular monthly schedule. You know, recovery days of course, but also just to bring a friend to practice day and to get some parents and guardians and mentors and even the coaches playing the game and interacting with the kids, because you know you can swim another hour but you know if the kids look forward to playing Skwim, maybe every other Friday as an activity or maybe after the meet, we all go back to the pool and take out the lane lines and what we organize some Swim game.
So, the next year or so I want to get to the heads of the swim coaches, that “hey, this game is a viable community activity for outreach for your team’s kids and also for your lesson program and for other activities that could happen around the pool”. So, then I think we can retain more kids in the sport and maybe we can even get some of them to play water polo when they get to be older, you know, like college age and such. So, I’m excited about reaching swimming teams as one of my prime efforts in the months to come.
Eric: And do you still coach?
Mark: Yeah. So, I’m coaching in the city here, where it’s a girls’ school, where I coached last year too and we’re doing some programs here in the city. And I’m also excited, I’m going out to four or five different community standing gigs. So, every other week we’ll be going to the Moon Township and to Mount Lebanon and the South Park and to [inaudible 00:14:30] valley. And we’re using Skwim as an avenue to just to have some good community fun recreational things; and those swim teams have allowed me to come in on a regular basis throughout the months to play with the kids and to have a different type of practice.
Eric: And how has Skwim gone with the kids that you coached personally?
Mark: Yeah. It works, everybody likes it, everybody’s in the whole time. And you know, people just, I think enjoy the gameplay. And so, we have the kids for three and a half hours in the afternoons for twenty seven days in the summer and that’s a long time to swim. Sure, we would do a little academic stuff and we would do some talking and storytelling and safety issues, but then when we get in the water there’ll be a little bit of a lesson and then it’s game play. And then after the first session, people are enjoying it, they’re able to be productive, they’re able to help with their team and we are able to escalate it. And the play gets much more refined, much better, kids get roles in their teams, the boys and girls are in there together. So, it’s a lot of fun and so we can turn to Skwim every day for a month and still find ways to get the kids really engaged and jazzed up about swimming and they’re working hard.
Eric: That’s awesome. So, tell me about the [Create literate Olympians here campaign].
Mark: Yeah. So, the publishing background of myself is, you know I just think pool literacy is important and reading about the old days of swimming, or reading about the superstars or reading about the new things. So, I’ve done a lot of publishing, we take a lot of photos and videos of the kids in the gameplay, but then we try to document what they’re doing; “hey, you did a nice float or you did a nice streamline. Let’s take a picture of that, let’s put it on a wiki page or a website and then let’s have serve as a bit of a textbook, so that other kids later can see how you did it and how they can do it too”.
So, we’ll invent new moves in the pool, or have a fun time; “who can do three somersaults in a row? let’s videotape it.” You get the camera out, everybody’s on their best behavior, everybody’s trying their hardest. We take a couple of them, put them up into a textbook, a sort of an e-record type thing and then the kids feel proud about their accomplishment, but then they’re also learning “Well, how did you do that? You know how does the Web work with the video and work with the text?” And then we always have asked the kids to do a lot of creative writing or verbalizing, “how did the practice go today?” Here’s a clean sheet of paper, we have some Android tablets, and the kids are sort of working on expressing themselves and being more literate as we go.
So, that literacy part is important to us and it’s somewhat hard to mix the paper and the wetness and the water in a pool all together, but I think it’s important to stretch the kids’ imagination and get them to illustrate some things and get them to have some ownership of the task and the fun that they’re having. And then to be able to document and record it and share it to other kids.
Eric: So, you came from a publishing background originally?
Mark: Well, yeah, I went to school for journalism and that’s when I coached. So, I’ve always been trying to do some weird marriage between publishing and sport, especially swimming.
Eric: I mean, sports journalism is a big thing. I mean, that’s not too far of a stretch.
Mark: Yeah. I’m less engaged in who won this week’s games, but I’m more engaged in the how to parts of it.
Eric: That makes good sense. And I know you putt out what you said is the first sports e-book? Is that right?
Mark: Oh, yeah. Well, back in ‘1989’, we worked with coaches in Alabama and they had a season where the workouts on spreadsheets. And so, we published a book of the practices and then we’re able to include it for an option. And that was when the floppy and three and a half inch…so, was a long time ago. But yeah, I don’t think anybody else was ever publishing electronic books with content like what we were able to do and hook up with some of the coaches and share the technology and share the ideas, containing how these practices were working.
Eric: Really cool. Well, I think Skwim is an awesome game. I’ve watched videos of it, I think it’s really neat. I think any kind of in the pool water engagement this kind of gamified and can make kids more active in the water is a good idea. And I think there is potential for it to kind of go where you guys are hoping and it becomes kind of a stable for the backyard.
Mark: Exactly. Yeah, and we need some help. So, if you want to learn to play a little bit better and we can have a foundation of rules, so you can come to Pittsburgh and play and sort of understand that this is the same rules that they play in Seattle or the same rules that we learned in my hometown, then that would be really sweet because then it would be a little more unified and a little more able to be shared.
Eric: And are you guys hoping to eventually make this like a competitive sport? I think so, right?
Mark: Yeah. And especially with swim teams or maybe we can get into the senior games somewhere or maybe we could get it to a scholastic level. But it’s going to be…. You don’t really want to replace water polo, but it could be more like for kids in grades five, six, seven, eight, especially. And then I think it becomes a smoother sailing to water polo.
You know, we play with triathletes, so we’ll have a triathlon for swim open swim type practice and then, okay, now we’re going to put on the head bands and we’re going to break up into teams and we’ll play a game of Skwim. And it’s sort of ending up becomes a little bit of an endurance game, but the triathletes love it too. So, yeah I could see us doing this at a lot of different venue, sort of as an add on activity.
Eric: What does it look like when adult athletes play Skwim?
Mark: Yeah. Often a lap swim is just people come in, they stay in their lane, they hardly socialize, they get grumpy because somebody’s got in their way. But this is wide open, it’s friendly, it’s social, but there is still [inaudible 00:21:32] for all types of players; there are some people there are going to be get there right away, but I like it for a social impact game. You’re making friends, you’re talking to people, your head is up, your passing, you’re just having fun and it’s not so stressful. But it’s still a good way to enjoy themselves and to pull out afterwards. So, yeah there some definitely in certain cities they’ll play [bocce] or they’ll play kickball or they’ll play other, flag football and softball [inaudible 00:22:12]. I could see this being a game, especially the young professional groups in towns and cities across the country could maybe say “hey, we got a pool over here, let’s make it an activity”.
In our city, we have a group called pump and they have a Pittsburgh sports [league]. So, we’ve attempted to try it with them, but maybe this next summer when we have a few more friendly pools where the equipment is always established we could keep a pool over for an extra hour or two and have an going [league] that would be for skwim.
Eric: I’d be curious to see what a high level skwim play looks like, really- ‘elite’ we’ll call it, with people who is athletic and swim well, who know the game; that would be interesting to see.
Mark: Yeah. In a certain way, I’m more interested in getting the masses on it. And here we are in Pittsburgh, it’s starting to rain because of Florence’s aftermath; there are thirty five million people on flood alert in our part of the country. So, geez, if you can’t swim two hundred yards, you might need to do that with your family to be safe. So, there’s just…on one hand the elite levels are sort of fun and glorified, but I’m trying to make skwim the base of the pyramid, something that’s going to get kids excited to go back to the pool and to keep going back to school and play further and longer.
Eric: Well, that makes perfect sense. I love Pittsburg by the way. I went up there for the N.D.P.A planning for the conference and I don’t know what impression I thought I had of it, but what it ended up being was so much better. You know, when you come out of that tunnel, through the bridge and it was [inaudible 00:24:08] big time. And you see the whole city… amazing, amazing place; not as old as I thought it was, amazing food, I was just a big fan overall, it’s a really full town.
Mark: Well, thanks. Yeah, we’re proud of our city, come on down. We got the three rivers, we got to be safe everywhere around town and we have a lot of public pools too. I sort of call that the fourth river of Pittsburgh where all our network of school pools and recreational pools and even some old community pools. So, Pittsburgh is a water town.
Eric: Perfect. So, is there anything else you want to mention before we wrap up?
Mark: No. I’d love to get an e-mail or interaction with your viewers, you can Google’s Skwim,
S-K-W-I-M or the new site we’re working on now, is skwim.us, and it has those for quizzes. And if you are a teacher, you want to use it with your classroom or something to that affect, you feel free to use it, jump on board, help us grow the sport but also help us stay safe and create tomorrows lifeguards.
Eric: Yeah, well you can… this will be up on Facebook as soon as we’re done, on our life saver pool fan Facebook page. So, you know, you can go on there, you can leave comments, you can talk to everybody.
Eric: Perfect. Thanks Mark, I really appreciate it man. Good luck with Skwim.
Eric: Tell Kevin I said hi. He’s my kind of guy, he’s intense and he’s you know obsessed with what he’s doing, which is my kind of people. So, I liked him a lot, so I tell him I said hey and we’ll talk again soon.
Mark: Great, thank you.
Eric: Alright, thank you very much. Thanks everybody, have a good one.